Pom Poko

POM POKO. 1994

Director: Isao Takahata

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl



The title of Pom Poko refers to the sound of a tanuki (Japanese raccoon) pounding on its round tummy like a drum, which is something they don't actually do in nature, but which is one of their standard abilities in fairy tales.

The animation for Pom Poko will appeal to the usual fans of Ghibli anime, but for the even slightly discerning, it will look awfully uneven, ranging from evocative of the natural world, to merely goofy. One of the film's centerpieces, the parade of spooks, is among the goofiest.

The whole film is aimed young, with repetitions & its "be kind to nature!" moral pummeled into viewers who are assumed to be either too little or too retarded to get the message if it's not underscored repeatedly.

I'm a sucker for stories about innocent animals harrassed by bad unthinking humans, but these tanuki racoons ain't even cute. Their forest in the Tama Hills outside Tokyo is being whittled away by developers, & the racoons begin training to increase their shape-shifting powers with a plan to scare the humans into leaving the forest alone, which of course won't work, even though they start off their unexciting escapades by killing three humans, something I somehow doubt any actual tanuki has ever done.

Foxes have already become extinct in the area, except for those who were the best shape-shifters & now live in the city permanently in the guise of humans. A sleek fox-man tries to convince the leader of the tanukis they will have to take the same measures, because there is nothing that will ever stop the spread of human expansion. But not all tanuki can shape-shift, & those who cannot adapt to human conditions will have to be abandoned to cruel fates.

Disney did a fine job of having the voices redone in English, but the DVD also permits the viewer to hear it in the original language with subtitles. Reportedly Disney, who bought the rights to most of the film-length Ghibli cartoons, did not want to issue this one because among the tanuki's transformative abilities is when the male tanukis extend their scrotums or testicle hoods into blankets, parachutes, & suchlike, as taken straight from ribald peasant folklore.

Disney solved their problem by insisting the male tanuki have "pouches" that can be extended. If a kid is dumb enough to believe tanuki are marsupials & that male marsupials have pouches, that kid may yet wonder why the pouches seem to be extending out the tankuis' asses. One wonders if the Japanese release had any other differences, & did Disney tinker with anything else to do away with whatever is cross-culturally challenging.

This is likely a good movie for kids but as an adult viewer I find no inherent magic in the words "anime" & "Ghibli" such as seem to render certain anime fans deliriously happy over all mediocrity. I require a really good story to help me forget I'm looking at awfully simplistic & occasionally even ugly drawings, & Ghibli Studios delivered such a story with the justly award-winning Spirited Away. But the story for Pom Poko is childish, repetitious & dull. The anime design is quite ordinary. It was hard work to see it through to the end.

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl



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